- Associated Press - Saturday, March 29, 2014

JUNEAU, Alaska (AP) - “I went from sleeping on sidewalks to not smoking, not drinking, not using,” said Front Street Clinic patient Hazel LeCount. “I’m a person of standing in the community because of Janna and Mary and what they’ve done for me.”

LeCount is one of about 300 clients served by Front Street Clinic, which is going through a major transition with its upcoming separation from SouthEast Regional Health Consortium on May 1.

In August 2013, SEARHC announced it would be closing the clinic, which serves Juneau’s homeless population, by Oct. 1. The decision would save the organization an estimated $300,000 annually.

“To have that extra $300,000 to reallocate to our other rural clinics can make the difference between having someone on-call or not having someone on-call throughout our region,” SEARHC COO Dan Neumeister said in an August 2013 interview. “It’s a big deal.”

But after the announcement of the planned closure, more than $100,000 was raised to keep the clinic open for an additional six months, allowing community members like Glory Hole executive director Mariya Lovishchuk the time to figure out the next steps.

Now, with barely a month before Front Street Clinic’s ties with SEARHC are severed, the board for the soon-to-be Front Street Health Center have it all figured out - though they are still seeking donations to keep the clinic from accruing a deficit in the coming months.

“We’re in a transitional period,” Lovishchuk said. “A hard and stressful period, waiting for grant funds to come through.”

Lovishchuk spearheaded the effort to save the clinic from closing its doors and brought together a surprising group of allies to form the board for the Front Street Health Center.

“We have agencies on the board rather than individuals,” Lovishchuk said. “Agencies as board members bring in resources.”

Represented on the board along with Lovishchuk are: Front Street Clinic nurse practitioner Janna Brewster, behavioral health clinician Mary Fitzgerald and dentist Ed Linsell; Jeannette Lacey Dunn and Sarah Hargrave, of Bartlett Regional Hospital; and Kelly Pajinag with Catholic Community Service.

Neumeister said in a Saturday interview it was a very positive transition working with the Homeless Coalition and commended them on organizing into an independent clinic in such short time and “really without any complications or stoppage of care for this pretty vulnerable group.”

Cheaper than an ER visit

Without a clinic serving Juneau’s most vulnerable population, the only other option for Front Street patients is Bartlett’s Emergency Room. Visits to the emergency room for conditions that could be treated at a non-emergency facility put strain on the ER and aren’t cost-effective, according to Bartlett’s Lacey Dunn.

She provided a rundown of costs for ER visits at BRH, with lower fees around $186 for being seen by a nurse and an additional $103 if seen by a doctor. That doesn’t include costs for procedures, supplies or medications. At the highest level, costs are easily in the thousands without accounting for those additional variable costs. An ambulance ride to the hospital can cost about $600 more.

Lacey Dunn called ER visits for all health care needs inappropriate and said there are missing components. If an ER doctor hands a homeless patient a prescription, the patient would be unlikely to be able to fill that prescription.

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